Judge Patrick Naugle is a retired member of the Living Dead Reserves.
Our review of Uncle Sam, published June 29th, 2004, is also available.
He wants you…dead!
Uncle Sam is a sluggish, shoddily produced horror/comedy that would have been at home in the early 1980s when every other slasher flick was based on a holiday (Friday the 13th, April Fool's Day, Silent Night, Deadly Night). In this reviewer's opinion, the best time to watch this film is late at night, when you have fallen asleep or drifted off into a deep coma.
Uncle Sam revolves around—what else?—the Fourth of July as a deranged, undead patriot rises from the grave to kill in the name of America. Of course, the only one who seems able to stop him is his nephew (an anemic, effeminate Christopher Ogden) and soul singer Isaac Hayes (Chef from TV's popular South Park) as a military vet with a bum leg. As 'Uncle Sam' begins his reign of terror during a small town's Independence Day celebration it becomes clear he must be stopped before everyone succumbs to his bloody red, white and blue rampage of murder.
Written by the prolific Larry Cohen (the It's Alive and Maniac Cop trilogies) and directed by schlock auteur William Lustig (Maniac Cop), Uncle Sam is a by-the-numbers turd that sports embarrassing child actors, C-level stars slumming for a paycheck (oh P.J. Soles, how far you've tumbled…) and a level of suspense that rivals clipping your toenails in a well lit room. When I was fifteen years old this movie would have been a lot of fun. As I sat stone-faced through Uncle Sam at the age of thirty-four, I saw through its paper thin veneer with creeping disappointment.
I'd hoped that Uncle Sam would fall under the 'so bad it's good' label. I mean, really—it's about an alcoholic, child abusing soldier who is brought back from the dead to become a homicidal patriot of doom. Born on the Fourth of July this is not. Alas, Uncle Sam's failings are that it lacks any depth or wit; with a title like Uncle Sam one might suspect an undercurrent of political satire. Hardly. Uncle Sam kills without giving any credence to victim's political ties or motives (the exception being broad strokes, like a kid who burns the flag or a draft dodger). The viewer isn't even afforded the minor luxury of groan inducing puns which is the meat and potatoes of the slasher genre.
The film is punctuated with inept child actors whose parents appear to have been Conrad Brooks and Paul Marco. And good Lord on a lampshade, who thought bringing in a kid in a wheelchair with telekinetic powers—a plot device as old as a hammer and nails—was a good idea? And while I'm thinking about it, what the heck is Oscar nominee Robert Forester (a long way from Jackie Brown) doing here?
With just a few tweaks Uncle Sam could have climbed to at least a level of bizarre, compelling entertainment. As it stands the film is a muddled mess of half baked ideas and missed opportunities. Some movies are as American as apple pie. If that's the case, Uncle Sam is about as American as rotten sushi.
Uncle Sam is presented in 2.35:1 HD 1080p. The picture quality of this movie is good, if not great. Some of the scenes show a bit of softness, but overall it's a fine looking image for a low budget film. Colors are representative and solid with black levels well rendered. This may not be a reference quality transfer, but fans of the film will most assuredly note the HD upgrade. Audio includes English 7.1 DTS-HD and an 5.1 Dolby Surround track, both of which do yeoman's work but don't add a ton to the proceedings. Some of the side and rear speakers are used, but the effects come off as slightly forced and artificial. Overall both tracks do the job, but are nothing to write home about. Also included are English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Uncle Sam includes a few star-spangled extra features, the meatiest of which are two commentary tracks. The first audio commentary is by director William Lustig, writer Larry Cohen and producer George G. Braunstein and the second is by William Lustig and star Isaac Hayes. If nothing else, Lustig is a chatty participant who has a lot to say about the film (and even admits at one point that he made some mistakes in the pacing). I'm not sure as a film like Uncle Sam needed two commentary tracks (will it surprise you to learn I only listened to snippets of each because I couldn't stand watching this film two more times?), but they are here for the fans who want them.
Also included is a really, really weird gag real that—I kid you not—is made to make scenes from the film appear as if one of the child actors is being molested by the other actors (I guess the BD producers thought this was funny, but it's not) and a deleted scene (video taped) that is fairly uninteresting. Finally there is a theatrical trailer and a poster and publicity stills gallery.
Once upon a time I liked crap like Uncle Sam. But the fairy tale is over. GUILTY!
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